Inside: Do you feel overwhelmed by choices and decision fatigue? You don’t have to be. Here’s the secret to dealing with choice overload.

I still remember the time I shopped for an Air Fryer online. I got sidetracked by Amazon’s Frequently Bought Together section, which showed a suggested French fry cutter.

A quick search showed 765 French fry cutters on Amazon, each with differing options:

  • Plastic versus stainless-steel
  • Prices from $19.99 to $109.00
  • 4-star good reviews to 5-star fantastic reviews
  • Manual versus electric
  • Horizontal versus vertical
  • Counter-mount with suction cups versus no-mount

And so down the rabbit hole I went. It would have been easier and faster to cut the potatoes by hand.

Overwhelmed by choices, I got out of the search by asking for a French fry cutter as my next Christmas gift. In a classic case of avoidance/procrastination, I secretly hoped that someone else could decide for me. 

If you’ve ever become overwhelmed by choices in everyday life, you’re not alone. Here’s what you can do about it.

Can Too Much Choice Become Paralyzing?

I confess. One of my biggest time-wasters is over-researching when making purchases, especially online ones. It’s all too easy to fall into a rabbit hole of options and not surface for several hours.

According to Hick’s Law, the more options we have, the longer it takes to make a decision.

Netflix is a perfect example. The more options offered, the longer it takes for Netflix users to pick a show. We want to be sure we pick the best show to watch. But we also become weary of trying to weigh the options, especially after a long day.

But the more options we have, the more dissatisfied we seem to be. In spite of the increasing choices, Netflix users have become more dissatisfied. Data shows that the average rating given to any show on Netflix has dropped over the years.

The modern world offers a dazzling array of choices, but more choices also demands more time and energy. 

We now pick from dozens of options in what we buy, wear, cook, drive, and eat at the all-you-can-eat buffet. For online deliveries, we get to choose the price, speed of delivery, and tip.

Then there are the bigger questions of where we live, send our children to school, and attend church. Plus the career choices of whether to work for an employer or ourselves, where to work remotely, and whether to pursue financial security or our dream passion.

Not only is the list endless, there’s often no clear-cut answer.

The Maximizer and Satisficer: Which One Are You?

In his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz describes us as a society overwhelmed by choices. And instead of increasing our sense of well-being, the overabundance of choice is raising our levels of anxiety, doubt, and dissatisfaction.

Schwartz describes two types of consumers: maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers try to make the optimal decision when making purchases, which means evaluating all the choices exhaustively. 

Satisficers, on the other hand, make purchases based on what adequately meets their requirements, or what’s good enough. (The word “satisfice” comes from the words satisfy and suffice.)

Schwartz says, “To satisfice is to settle for something that is good enough and not worry about the possibility that there might be something better.”

When shopping online, the maximizer will scour the internet for tons of customer reviews, whereas the satisfier makes a quick decision after looking at a few products.

What Maximizers Need to Know

If the time spent doing exhaustive analysis resulted in more contentment, we might justify it as being worth it. Unfortunately, it does not.

Maximizers are more likely to experience second-guessing, comparison with others, and disappointment. Studies show that maximizers tend to be less satisfied with their final choice than those who did less research.

In their quest for the best, maximizers can end up focusing not on what they have, but on what they might have had. Ironically, remorse was the outcome they were trying to avoid in the first place.

Still, the exhaustive analysis approach does pay off in some situations. Maximizers tend to do better in major decisions (but then end up feeling worse about their choices). One study showed that maximizers found jobs with 20% higher income but were less satisfied in those positions.

The Real Reason We Research to Death

Behind all the overanalyzing lies the real reason we research our choices to death: fear and anxiety over making the wrong decision (even if it’s just a French fry cutter).

But as finite humans in an increasingly complex world, we’ll never be able to evaluate all the options. Ultimately, the search for the “perfect choice” is a futile pursuit. It’s a form of placing our hopes in the things of this world—or in our limited ability to make the perfect decision. 

First John 2:15-16 reminds us to hold our possessions lightly:

“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (NLT).

Learning to be content with “good enough” helps us loosen the grip that possessions can hold over us. As the apostle Paul writes, “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth” (1 Timothy 6:6 NLT). 

When we choose to satisfice, we cease to pin our happiness on earthly things that cannot deliver. We say to God, “I choose not to worship the gifts—or my ability to choose rightly—but I trust You instead. I choose to be content with what I have.” 

We declare that “good enough” is, indeed, good enough.

A man carries the heavy burden of too many choices
The mental burden of too many choices

How to Stop Being a Maximizer Who Is Overwhelmed by Choices

If you feel overwhelmed by choices in everyday life, here are some ways to reduce your daily decisions.

1. Determine how important the decision is.

The first step is to determine if you can apply the “good enough” standard to the decision. If it’s important, then take the time to make the best possible decision. But if it’s not that important, adopt a “good enough” approach using the rest of the tips below.

2. Limit your choices.

Instead of exhaustively researching a long list of options, research and compare only three choices. Stay on the first page of Amazon. Or stick to a couple of stores.

3. Set a time limit.

Limit the amount of time devoted to picking out an item or making a decision. (This includes reading reviews!) Set a timer on your phone if needed. Know when to call it quits.

4. Make small decisions immediately.

Don’t wait until later, allowing small decisions to pile up, especially when you’ve already decided. As a result of the Zeigarnik effect, people tend to experience intrusive thoughts when they leave a task unfinished or interrupted. Procrastination leads to an increased mental load of half-made decisions.

5. Stick to your favorites.

Determine your favorite brands and stick to those brands. If you like an item, reorder the same product the next time. Make a Frequently Bought or Buy Again list in your online accounts, so that you can re-order easily. If you find an article of clothing that you like and fits you well, buy more than one color.

6. Choose the simplest version.

Opt for the simpler version of an item, rather than the one with all the bells and whistles. Complicated is not always better.

7. It’s okay not to get the best deal.

Unless money is tight, accept that it’s okay not to find the best deal in town. Your time and energy are just as important as the 49 cents that you save.

8. Don’t upgrade unless it’s broken.

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it or buy a new one. Along the same lines, buy something only when you need it, not when you see an ad pop up for it.

9. Aim for 80%.

Let go of the notion of the “perfect” item. Aim for 80%, rather than 100% perfection. It’s okay to settle when it comes to material possessions. 

10. Gamify imperfection.

Challenge yourself to practice making small decisions quickly. If cutting down on research is difficult for you, build your tolerance by doing minimal research on a small item ($10 or less). Practice tolerating imperfection and it’ll get easier.

11. Keep what you buy.

Just because you can return it, doesn’t mean you should. You’ll waste time running yet another errand. If you experience buyer’s remorse, don’t give yourself the option to return it if it’s not perfect. Learn to be content with what you have.

12. Follow a low-information diet.

A low-information diet limits the amount of information you take in to free up time and energy. This translates to less exposure to advertising, social comparisons, and other non-essential information to process.

Here’s how to implement a low-information diet.

13. Prioritize what matters.

Prioritize people, experiences, and hobbies over things. Fill your life with what matters most to you. When you don’t have the time to over-research, you naturally won’t research as much.

14. Develop solid habits and routines.

When you develop intentional daily habits and routines, it cuts down the number of tiny choices you have to make in a given day, reducing decision fatigue.

15. Set life “rules” for yourself.

You can also reduce decision fatigue by pre-deciding “rules” for yourself. For example, you could opt to check your phone only after you read the Bible in the mornings. You might reserve every other Wednesday night as a date night. Or relax your diet only on the weekends.

Once you make these decisions, you don’t have to keep making them over and over.

16. Build your contentment muscle.

Contentment is like a muscle that can be strengthened and built up. No matter the decision, practice contentment. Learn to enjoy what you have today, rather than worry about what you might have had.

The Secret to Dealing with Choice Overload

Christians should be selective about how we make decisions, choosing to be a satisficer regarding the unimportant, nonessential things of life.

For excessive preoccupation with the things of this world distracts us from God and His Kingdom, sapping our ability to grow spiritually. Intentionally limiting our daily choices helps us to focus better on loving God and others.

So the next time you’re overwhelmed by choices, be a selective satisficer. Because, trust me, shopping for a French fry cutter is not how you want to spend your free time.

Recap: How to Deal with Choice Overload (and Stop Being a Maximizer)

1. Determine how important the decision is.

2. Limit your choices.

3. Set a time limit.

4. Make small decisions immediately.

5. Stick to your favorites.

6. Choose the simplest version.

7. It’s okay not to get the best deal.

8. Don’t upgrade unless it’s broken.

9. Aim for 80%.

10. Gamify imperfection.

11. Keep what you buy.

12. Follow a low-information diet.

13. Prioritize what matters.

14. Develop solid habits and routines.

15. Set life “rules” for yourself.

16. Build your contentment muscle.

In what ways could you adopt the “good enough” approach today?

For more on this topic:

Why Decision Fatigue is Making You Tired—But Here’s How to Beat It

How You Can Improve Your Christian Decision-Making Skills

How a Low Information Diet Can Help You with Information Overload

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Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

About the Author

Helen Rees

I am a Christian, wife, stepmom, psychiatric nurse, and writer. I write about research-backed ways to navigate the challenges of fast-paced modern life while growing in your Christian faith.

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